Last month, I turned forty-one.
And did so, as with most years, without so much as a whit of fanfare.
It’s not that I avoid celebrating my birthday out of a refusal to acknowledge getting older. Aging has never had much of a stigma with me, so celebrating birthdays isn’t that much of a priority.
Let’s face it: unless you’re a Time Lord or a certain hairy mutant with retractable claws and some anger management issues, we all eventually start to show signs of aging, and they’re not always pleasant.
Part of my nonchalance with it, I think, is because there’s few things I’ve had to give up and put aside as a consequence of some artificially-imposed age-based threshold.
When I was a kid, I read comic books, loved superheroes and cool toys, and played video games.
All of which I still heartily engage in. In fact, the only thing to offset the acceptance of ‘adult’ responsibilities, as far as I can see, is the fact that mandatory bedtime has been abolished. If I want to read comics at 1 A.M., there’s no more need for a flashlight under the covers. (Sorry, Duracell.)
The only thing I can really say I’ve ever abandoned because it was too ‘immature’ is playing with action figures, specifically Hasbro’s 1980s G.I. Joes, which were the du jour amongst myself and my early adolescent clique.
Then again, not long after I stopped acting out melodramatic fanfic with molded plastic terrorists and defenders of freedom, I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and other methods of interactive storytelling, which led me directly into a desire to be a writer and … acting out melodramas with intangible action figures via words on paper or on a screen.
One thing occurred to me last month, however: am I now middle aged? Exactly when does middle age start?
Quick, Robin — to the INTERNET!
It appears that the answer to that is a resounding … maybe.
There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on exactly what the definition of middle age is, beyond ‘the period between young adulthood and the onset of old age’. The Collins Dictionary lists it as occurring between ‘forty and sixty’, so therefore I am now middle aged.
Meanwhile, the Oxford English Dictionary goes with ‘between about forty-five and sixty’. So, in that case, no.
But then there’s the U.S. Census, which in true governmental fashion, contradicts itself and lists middle age as BOTH 35 to 44 and 45 to 54.
The American Psychiatric Association’s standard-bearer, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, once considered middle age as 40-60, but has since revised it to bump the starting age up to 45 and have it end at 65.
Which simultaneously gives me a sense of relief and unease that a) I’m NOT middle-aged, but b) apparently middle age is an inescapable mental disorder that I’ve got only four good years left to enjoy before the onset of.
Middle age seems to be defined mostly in terms of physicality. The skin gets less elastic, and the hair starts to gray.
Most people I meet are surprised when I tell them my age. It probably has a lot to do with my personality and behavior than taught skin. That, and the fact that unless otherwise forbidden to do so by a dress code, I’m usually wearing a t-shirt with some sort of comic-inspired artwork or character emblazoned on it.
And my hair’s been graying since I was in my late twenties, so that’s not a huge development. I’ve already been covering that up, first by just blending the grey in with my natural brown, then a couple years ago I decided to go for a more radical makeover and started coloring it jet black to match my thick nerd frames for my new glasses.
For the past couple of weeks, since my last haircut, I’ve conducted an experiment to see what it would be like to just let my hair go natural … which now is an overwhelming amount of salt with a few dashes of pepper. No one’s offered me any sort of a senior discount, but I have noticed a few more ‘sir’s than ‘dude’s or ‘man’s.
Not sure I like that, and I think it’ll be going back to black.
Another downside to middle age is a natural decline in physical fitness. Strength and flexibility decrease, along with a downturn in maximum heart rate, which makes getting benefits from aerobic exercise more of a challenge. This, in turn, results in an average gain of ten to twenty pounds.
That part hit home. I have put on a few pounds over the past couple months, because I’ve been spending more and more time sitting at a keyboard. This has been great for setting the groundwork for all the various writing and creative projects I’ve been setting up, but not so awesome for my waistline.
I found that a great deal of my wardrobe no longer fits properly, including a good chunk of my extensive and beloved t-shirt collection. I knew this was a problem, but my fix had been to . . . well, buy a couple tees in XL and tend to favor those in the daily rotation.
There’s no way I can solely blame the gain on faulty biology: my diet’s been pretty horrible of late. A lot of skipped meals and when I finally do get hungry enough to tear a hand away from the keyboard, it gets plunged into a bag of junk food.
What I did, once I read that my physiology was likely to conspire with Frito-Lay, was to start watching what I eat more carefully, and look for healthier alternatives and use more moderation. Wheat Thins instead of Doritos, and my new all-time favorite, Blue Diamond Mocha Coffee Almonds, which are not only healthier than a handful of Reese’s Pieces, but have the added benefit of extra caffeine.
I haven’t stepped on a scale to measure my progress, but I can say by the standards of the T-Shirt Tightness Test, it’s been working.
I do still believe that age is more psychological than physiological, but there’s no denying that I can’t keep playing Russian roulette with my health, either. I have a fairly stressful daily schedule of trying to juggle a full-time day job along with several creative ventures I want to get up off the ground, and this often means the first thing to go up on the altar and under the dagger to be sacrificed to the Gods of Productivity is sleep.
Me and Morpheus don’t get a whole lot of face time these days, and while that’s not always good, it’s also a necessary evil for the time being. Hopefully at some point in the next few years I can stop punching a clock to work retail, but until then I need to live simultaneously in two separate realities, both on Earth-Wage Slave, and as an aspiring creative, on Earth- Awesome, so I’ll just pour another cup of coffee and try to reconcile that multiple reality conundrum.
Or maybe I’ll just get enough java in my system to become hyper enough to start vibrating across dimensional barriers and team up with myself.
Speaking of which, should I be preparing for a stereotypical impending Crisis?
The jury seems to be out on even that. Psychologists and behavior experts hotly debate on whether or not midlife crises are as pervasive and commonplace as our culture would like us to believe — and there’s strong evidence to point to the whole concept as being something that is almost strictly a phenomenon in Western society, a way to go off the deep end about dealing with facing our own morality and the loss of youth and have it be socially acceptable.
In Japan, for instance, researchers have found the instances of midlife crises among middle aged Japanese men are almost nil. (Although I’m curious as to whether or not the ready availability of purple-haired-schoolgirls-in-sailor-outfits anime tentacle porn has any correlation with that near non-existence of fortyish freakouts.)
I think I have, in a way, gone through a midlife crisis of sorts, but in a positive light. Whether or not it was directly related to hitting a milestone age last year, or more just overall coincidence and my personal stars finally coming into the proper alignment (I suspect the truth to be at least a little of both), I have finally gotten over a long slump of being ‘meh’ about what I wanted out of life and being satisfied with just ‘getting by’.
This past year between birthdays has seen more positive change and growth on a personal level than the past half-dozen that proceeded it, and while I’ve still got a long way to go, I’m pretty proud of it. A lot of it has been spent plotting and planning and researching, and I’m now getting to the point where it’s going to be application of the plans I’ve mapped out and skills I’ve picked up in the last twelve months and some epic-level writing and creative marathons, which I’m very much looking forward to.
I’m sure there’s a little overcompensation there, and I may have bitten off more than I can comfortably chew, but it after years of doing nothing, it feels good to be a little overwhelmed with possibilities at times.
So if I am middle-aged, then bring it on. I find myself identifying more now with the stoic Earth-2 version of Superman — the original Kal-L from the first Action Comics #1, getting a little gray around the temples, maybe not quite as fast as a speeding bullet, the tights perhaps not as flattering as they once were — than I do with the buff, brash young pseudo-armored reboot, and that’s fine.
Because while I may not be quite the Man of Tomorrow I thought I’d have become by now, I can still show the Superboys and Supergirls what the meaning of the word ‘steel’ is all about.
Thanks for stopping by Public Domain!
Over at his desk! Look!
It’s a nerd!
It’s a geek!
It’s … that guy!
Yes, it’s Michael Allan Leonard — strange enough to be from another planet, but really an Earth native with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (if you’re willing to both lower your standards and greatly suspend your disbelief).
Michael Allan Leonard, who can leap cracks in a sidewalk in a single bound (your back’s safe again, Mom), with a heart rate faster than a speeding hummingbird on meth thanks to his addiction-like dependence on coffee, who can bend an editing / correction pencil in his bare hands (Lord knows he rarely uses it for anything else), and who, disguised as a introverted, sarcastic writer-slash-blogger, fights a never ending battle for truth, bad jokes, and likes on his blog’s Facebook page.
All characters © DC Comics / Warner Bros., except Hef. No one could make up a believable fictional character like him. Batman ‘birthday’ art by and © Paolo Rivera.